Tulips say “spring” like no other flowers. Their vivid, paint-box colors are a feast for winter-weary eyes. These members of the lily family (thus, a relative of onions) typically grow a single stem and flower from teardrop-shaped bulbs that are planted in fall for spring flowers. Tulip bulbs require a dormancy period with cool, winter-like temperatures. During this time, the bulbs sprout roots and the embryonic leaves and flowers inside the bulb begin to develop.
Tulips are native to southern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Asia. Works of art depicting their distinctive shape date back to the 10th century. They have been cultivated in earnest for at least 400 years. By leveraging the tulip’s natural tendency toward diversity, generations of breeders and tulip collectors, have brought forth a mind-boggling array of flower forms, heights, colors and bloom times. Today, Holland produces most of the world’s annual tulip crop, which exceeds 4 billion bulbs annually.
It’s been said that various colors of tulips have significant meaning when gifted: Red means love, white means I’m sorry and purple represents loyalty.
Basic Types and Varieties
There are over 150 species of tulips with over 3,000 different varieties and are classified into Divisions by type:
Division 8: Viridiflora. Streaks of green give these tulips a distinctive look. Most cultivars bloom mid to late spring. Long-lasting cut flowers. 20” tall. Groenland, Spring Green, Flaming Spring Green, Artist
Division 9: Rembrandt. Petals display exotic markings and color breaks. Resemble the tulips in 17th-century paintings. 20-24” tall. Rembrandt Mix
Purchase tulip bulbs that are large, firm and heavy. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark place until planting time.
Plant tulips in mid to late fall, when you are raking leaves and doing other fall clean up chores. Soil temperature should be 55°F or cooler. Choose a planting location with full to part day sun, where the soil is well drained and easy to dig (never soggy). Loosen the soil to a depth of 10”.
Tulips look best when they are planted in informal groups of 12 or more bulbs. Space the bulbs approximately 3 to 4” on center and plant them 6 to 7” deep. Use a garden trowel to plant individual bulbs or remove the soil from the planting area, place the bulbs and then refill the hole.
Tulips are at their best the first spring after planting. For this reason, the bulbs are usually treated as annuals and dug out when they finish blooming. Under ideal growing conditions (sharply drained soil, cold winters, cool springs, hot, dry summers) some tulips will return to bloom again another year. The best candidates are Darwin hybrids and Species tulips. To encourage re-blooming, cut off the spent flowers as soon as they fade and allow the foliage to continue growing until it is yellow and dry.
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